COVID-19: Are the Statistics Telling us Anything?

By Ophélie Guillouet-Lamy, Consultant at IB Consultancy

Ever since the start of this pandemic, scientists, researchers but also polling organizations and media have tried to follow the trend curve of this disease. By looking at all the numbers, by following the evolution of the virus in different countries of the world, by comparing the most up-to-date data, by measuring and interpreting trends, they all have been trying to find answers, or at least a better understanding of what is happening to our society. This data race might have left you with more questions than before. Without pretending to bring the scientific truth or to clarify everything, this article will try to sum up some of the most interesting statistics and data about COVID-19 and provide food for thought. After all, this virus remains a mystery.

Before getting into numbers, one should remember the main figures of this pandemic:

  • Number of COVID-19 Cases worldwide, as of October 19, 2020: 40.281.741 (To help you visualize, that is two times the population of Beijing.)
  • Number of deaths from COVID-19 Worldwide, as of October 19, 2020: 1.118.328
  • Total recoveries from COVID-19 Worldwide, as of October 19, 2020: 30.116.676
  • Estimated COVID-19 Infection Rate: 2,5 per infected person (Probability or risk of an infection in a population: 1 infected person can, in turn, contaminate 2,5 other people)

Globally, 2,78% of the people infected by COVID-19 died. The Americas are by far the most affected area of the world with 17.176.705 confirmed cases, followed by South-East Asia with 7.488.605 confirmed cases, Europe with 6.337.772 cases and far behind the Eastern Mediterranean region (2.503.734), Africa (1.206.767) and Western Pacific (633.080)*. As of the 6th of October, Greenland, Mongolia, Bhutan, Turkmenistan, New Caledonia, and North Korea were among the few countries who did not register any deaths linked to COVID-19 according to their official numbers.

For COVID-19, the latest data suggest that 80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe infections, requiring oxygen and 5% are critical infections, requiring ventilation. The majority of patients (over 80%) do not need medical assistance at all. They treat themselves at home, just like for an ordinary flu, and usually recover in about a week.

Now let us look a bit deeper in some of the most commonly used data: the case fatality rate and the deaths per 100.000 people ratio.

*The regions listed above are divided according to the WHO regions

Case fatality rate

The case fatality rate, also called case fatality risk or case fatality ratio, is the proportion of people who die from a specified disease among all individuals diagnosed with the disease over a certain period of time. The case fatality rate is typically used as a measure of the disease severity and is often used to predict a disease course or outcome. When it comes to COVID-19, Yemen has the highest case fatality ratio with 29% (597 deaths for 2.056 confirmed cases since the start of the outbreak in the country). Mexico is following with a case-fatality ratio of 10%, just in front of Italy (8,8%). This case-fatality ratio does not seem to follow any written rules. As a comparison, the United Kingdom (6%), Sweden (5,7%) or Belgium (4,7%), countries that are supposed to have more than decent healthcare systems, are doing worse than Afghanistan (3,7%), Guatemala (3,5%) or Iraq (2,4%). China’s case fatality is also among the highest (5,7%) whereas it was quite low for the US (2,7%). The lowest case-fatality ratios are hold by Qatar (0,2%), Sri Lanka (0,2%) and Singapore (0,0%).

Deaths / 100K of the Population

If you now look at another type of data, you get a slightly different top 3. San Marino, Peru and Belgium are the 3 countries totalizing the highest number of deaths per 100.000 of the population, with respectively 124,32, 105,35 and 91,17 deaths per 100K people. The US almost reached the top 10 with 67,14 deaths per 100K of the population while China is really at the bottom with 0,34 deaths per 100K people. The countries registering the least number of deaths per 100K people are Tanzania, Vietnam and Taiwan.

These two types of data must be read simultaneously for a better understanding of each country’s COVID-19 crisis management.

Differentiating COVID-19 deaths from a combination of causes

According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (updated on September 30), for 6% of the deaths in the US, COVID-19 was the only cause. For deaths caused by COVID-19 in conjunction with other conditions or causes, the CDC reported an average of 2,6 additional conditions or causes per death.

Some studies have for instance shown the clear relationship between obesity and the severity of COVID-19 disease. In France for instance, a study led by the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lille included 124 intensive care unit (ICU) admissions with COVID-19 and compared them with 306 patients who had been in the ICU for other reasons than COVID-19. The data showed that among ICU patients with COVID-19, around half had obesity (Body Mass Index above 30), with a quarter having severe obesity (BMI of 35 or above). Most of the remaining patients (around 40%) were overweight, with only around 10% of patients in the healthy weight range (BMI 25 or under). Almost all COVID-19 ICU patients with severe obesity (87%) needed a ventilator, dropping to 75% for ‘regular’ obesity (BMI 30-35), 60% for patients in the overweight category, and 47% for those in the healthy BMI range.

Testing Capacity

When it comes to the testing capacity of countries, the differences are here also quite surprising. As of October 16, Lithuania, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Iceland and Denmark were the 5 countries with the highest rate of COVID-19 tests performed daily per thousand people. The UK, France and Russia were following this top 5. Lithuania is by far the most efficient with 417,02 tests performed each day per thousand people. Per thousand people, Saudi Arabia and Chile had performed more tests than France or the Netherlands.

Now if you take the total number of COVID-19 tests performed relative to the size of the populations, the number differs significantly for certain countries. As of October 16, Denmark was by far the most efficient, with 770,02 performed per 1000 people, followed by Iceland with 480,94 tests, the US with 402,44 tests and Russia with 372,09 tests per 1000 people. According to these numbers, Chile (203,33) was performing more tests than the Netherlands (167,67) or Italy (135,62).

Hospital beds and Intensive Care Units availability

According to data gathered by the WHO, EU Member States have 394 hospital beds for acute care available per 100K inhabitants, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and Denmark being the bad students of Europe with less than 300 beds. Germany and Lithuania are on the contrary at more than 600 beds per 100K people.

Now if we look at the global availability of Intensive Care Units’ Beds, we see that the availability ranged from none (Nauru, Solomon Islands and South Sudan) to 21,3 per 100K (Kazakhstan) in low-and-middle-income countries, and to none (Liechtenstein) to 59,5 per 100K population (Monaco) in high-income countries. In Africa, apart from Seychelles, South Africa and Egypt, all countries had a density of less than 5,0 ICU beds per 100K population.

Conclusion From all these statistics presented above, one should recognize the difficulty to extract a unique trend or a clear image of the phenomenon. It is hard to portray a single story that could give meaning to all the figures. At first glance, some data seem to contradict others, or at least show a different picture of the society than the one everyone could have expected. Of course, when digging a bit, it is possible to find realistic and tangible explanations to this data. But it is fair to say that the COVID-19 outbreak across the world did raise a lot of questions, without giving all the answers.

Ophélie currently serves as a Consultant at IB Consultancy. In 2019, she graduated from Sciences Po Lille with a Master’s degree in Strategy, Intelligence and Risk Management. She draws her expertise in security and international affairs from different working experiences at the French Ministry of Interior, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), or the French Embassy in Belarus.